Big, Bold Burgers

The humble hamburger goes upscale.



Must Try (in season): The Scolari's Blueberry Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger

Lori Eanes

Umami Burger, after taking over Los Angeles, strategically began to expand the empire. San Francisco and New York were musts. But Oakland?

“The owner picked this location specifically,” says Caleb Peyton, Umami’s regional kitchen chef, a Berkeley native. “People are starting to respect that you get what you pay for, and he just wanted to reach the market that wasn’t making the trip all the way to San Francisco.”

Now, the East Bay has a plethora of options for exquisite burgers, jiving with the area’s infusion of quality and modernity. Judging by their popularity, the demand for something more than In-N-Out is significant.

There is no shortage of people on this side of the water who want honest and fresh ingredients, memorable flavors, and to feed their burger fetish. And they’re willing to spend.

Now, they have options.

“I used to eat fast-food burgers,” says Oakland native Yaphet Santana, a student at San Francisco State University who has found Scolari’s Good Eats in Alameda to be a go-to spot. “I’ve grown out of that. My palate has evolved; my understanding of good food has evolved. But I still love a good burger. So this is lovely to me, having my hometown be rife with upscale burger joints.”

The trend toward organic and the push for local and sustainable food haven’t killed the burger industry as some may have thought. Chefs like Greg Eng and Jason Low—who started TrueBurger in Oakland—instead have stepped up the burger game.

Several fine food establishments have burgers on their menu worth writing home about. The Grayson Burger at 900 Grayson earned this Berkeley corner diner the honor of being Zagat’s best burger in the Bay Area. The signature burger at Chop Bar in Oakland pops, thanks to its premium ground chuck, a heavenly Kaiser roll, avocado, and Fiscalini cheddar. Hopscotch in Oakland makes the burger notables with its First Base Burger, which mixes griddled beef tongue into the patty to go with pickled onions and bacon, making for one of the juiciest burgers you will taste.

The last couple of years have also seen yupscale burger joints pop up, adding to the variety. The likes of TrueBurger and Victory Burger keep alive the convenient, comforting feel while providing quality food for the health- and ingredient-conscious. Health and burgers were formerly an oxymoron, but the concept is becoming a staple in the East Bay. Both offer the benefit of good food with the chilling vibe that tends to go hand-in-hand with burger consumption.

Umami takes it to another level with the posh ambiance at its Franklin Street digs and high-end ingredients. On the menu you’ll find foodie faves like truffle, shiitake mushrooms, roasted chiles, and garlic aioli. Add to that dim lights, a plethora of wines and cocktails, and lofty prices, and you’ve got a burger spot as relevant and trendy as the area.

“People are going to spend $20 to $25 on lunch or dinner anyway,” Peyton said. “You might as well get quality.”

New Age Burger Joints

There are places that feature a great burger, and there are these—the new age burger joints. Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers is no longer the only show in the East Bay when it comes to gourmet burger spots. These purveyors make the area a booming hub of high-quality burger options.

UMAMI BURGER

2100 FRANKLIN ST., SUITE 2190, OAKLAND, WWW.UMAMI.COM.

11 A.M.–10 P.M. MON.–THU. AND SUN., 11 A.M.–11 P.M. FRI.–SAT.

MO: Just shy of fancy-schmancy but no doubt posh for a burger joint. The formula is unique: simple burgers plus upscale ingredients equals lots of flavor.

PERFECT FOR: An impressive date without breaking the bank. You’ll feel like you went somewhere really nice but the hit to the wallet won’t be extreme.

MUST TRY: The truffle burger.

POINTS FOR ORIGINALITY: Each buttery, soft bun is branded with a “U.”

VICTORY BURGER

1099 ALCATRAZ AVE., OAKLAND, WWW.VICTORYBURGER.COM.

11:30 A.M.–9 P.M. MON., WED.–SAT., 11:30 A.M.–8 P.M. SUN.

MO: It’s like offspring of a farmers market and a mom-and-pop shop. Victory is all about local and sustainable, from the burgers to the organic produce to the buns, and unique flavors. It’s the perfect burger spot for those who have been scarred for life by food documentaries.

PERFECT FOR: Experimenting and stepping outside your food comfort zone. Cherries on a burger. Grilled plaintains. Victory even serves arepa, a grilled cornmeal patty native to South America as a bun substitute for a gluten-free option.

MUST TRY: The burger of the week. Don’t be deterred by the oddity.

POINTS FOR ORIGINALITY: Victory boasts some interesting add-ons such as bacon gravy, chicken skin mayo, jalapeño jam, and aged Manchego cheese.

TRUEBURGER

146 GRAND AVE., OAKLAND, WWW.TRUEBURGEROAKLAND.COM.

11 A.M.–2:30 P.M. MON.; 11 A.M.–9:30 P.M. TUE.–SAT.

MO: It’s comfort food you can feel a little bit better about. Cheesy in a good way. Low maintenance and simple, but you can taste the quality. And it tastes even better considering the price.

PERFECT FOR: An indulgent lunch. It’s quick and easy but with the ooey-gooey goodness that breaks the chain-restaurant flavor monotony.

MUST TRY: The Bacon Cheesy TrueBurger.

POINTS FOR ORIGINALITY: Their shakes come with “mix-ins” such as toasted marshmallows, peanut butter, Twinkies, and Oreos.

SCOLARI’S GOOD EATS

1303 PARK ST., ALAMEDA

11 A.M.–2:30 P.M. MON., 11 A.M.–9:30 P.M. TUE.–SAT.

MO: Scolari’s only rolls with seasonal, fresh ingredients. And the cooks are heavy-handed with them, giving you a mountain of tastes. Everything is over-the-top, designed to overwhelm.

PERFECT FOR: Gorging. The flavors are bold and the portions are healthy. Scolari’s is the perfect place to pig out on something high quality.

MUST TRY: Blueberry Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger.

POINTS FOR ORIGINALITY: They call them buffalo fries. They're a meal all their own, featuring crumbled blue cheese, shaved carrots and celery.

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